By: Ashley Bergeron
Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly and are under the order Chiroptera. They can be found all over the world, including the area around IU South Bend.
There are currently 13 species of bats in Indiana: Big brown bat, Indiana bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat, pipistrelle, red bat, evening bat, hoary bat, silver-haired bat, eastern small-footed bat, southeastern bat and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat.
Bats are an important part of the ecosystem. They help with insect control, seed distribution and pollination. In Indiana, all the bats are insectivores which means they eat insects. Some bugs that bats like to eat are beetles, moths and mosquitos.
Bats pollinate flowers as they look for their food. Some plants that bats pollinate are dates, figs, agave plants, cloves and many more. Over 300 plants rely on bats for pollination and seed distribution.
Unfortunately, a lot of bats are at risk of extinction. In Indiana, the Indiana bat, evening bat, gray bat, southeastern bat, northern long-eared bat and pipistrelle are endangered. The Rafinesque’s big-eared bat’s last sight recording was in 1962 and the southeastern bat’s last sight recording was in 1977.
Climate change, habitat destruction, persecution, white-nose syndrome (a disease where the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans or Pd attacks hibernating bats and causes the bats to change their normal winter behavior) and wind energy.
One way to help bats is to become a bat ambassador. Bats have a bad reputation which causes people to attack and persecute colonies of bats. One of the myths that harms bats the most is that every bat is a vampire bat. Out of 1400 bat species, only three species are vampire bats. By helping destroy myths that harm bats and spread the word on how bats are important to the ecosystem, people will be less scared of them.
Another way to help bats is to make sure they have habitats. Dead or dying trees are used as roosting sites for bats, so if the trees are not a safety hazard, leave those trees alone. If the dead or dying trees are a safety hazard or there are no dead trees around, a bat box can be used instead.
Bat boxes provide the bats shelter. You can make one or buy one that is BCI-certified. Bat boxes should be 15 feet above the ground and should get direct sunlight for at least six to eight hours each day. Bats will go to bat boxes on poles or buildings more than bat boxes on trees.
If bats are in your house, make sure to find a professional that won’t hurt them when removing them. Some bats do carry diseases like rabies, so it is not a good idea to keep them in your house. Bat World Sanctuary provides a service where you can find a specially trained bat rescuer in your area. If there are no rescuers available, contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife to safely remove the bats. In Michigan, contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to safely remove the bats.
Lastly, do not disturb bats. During winter months, don’t go into caves and mines where bats could be hibernating. If a bat wakes up and uses all their fat resources before winter ends, they can die due to starvation.
If you want to know more information about bats or have any questions, you can reach Bat Conservation International (BCI) through batcon.org.